Recently it came to my attention that a teacher in a local school was using a white board to name and shame students. She called it her numpty board; numpty according to dictionary.com meaning “stupid person”. Across the internet also, we sometimes see pictures posted by parents parading their children in front of the camera with signs around the neck using public humiliation to get a point across and teach them a lesson. One woman it has been reported sat her son in the middle of a town with a sign round his neck saying “Don’t trust me! I am a thief!” as an act of discipline to teach him not to steal from her again. But to what extent do these acts of humiliation actually work and what are the alternatives?
Discipline is about teaching children good ways to act. Yet research shows that children who are publically humiliated are more likely to use the teaching exercise as a means to learn how to do similar to other children rather than take any good away. ‘Might is right’ is the message that these children learn and on the back of such power abuse, they are taught to treat others in a similar way.
But why is this so?
Discipline teaches good but humiliation has three-fold problems which do no good at all:
1. It destroys self esteem. Psychologically, it decreases a child’s belief in their own self-worth and in their own competence. It is also linked with increased anxiety, depression and stress.
2. It destroys trust. Children need to trust the adults that care for them. To undermine trust undermines their sense of security and diminishes the relationship.
3. It destroys lives. It doesn’t take much for images to spread on-line and news to become viral nowadays. A few clicks, a few status updates, words behind another’s back and a reputation can be undone in seconds.
But what is the alternative?
Using humiliation then damages a child’s worth and sets the power abuser on a pedestal where they are always right! Neither are surely acceptable or valid. Instead parenting and teaching children using maxims of self-respect and responsibility have to take priority. Approaching discipline in a constructive manner that harnesses the power of conversation, discussion, understanding and recognition pays greater dividends in the longer term. That is not to say that children don’t need boundaries and that parents don’t need to set those boundaries but by considering the child as a person, a valuable human being and member of society, is the first step to successful discipline where children are taught good ways to act.
So to those who use the “numpty” approach to discipline, please consider your options. Shame and humiliation come out of centres of fear and intimidation. They are are tools of bullies not resources that children deserve to ultimately learn to distinguish good from bad and thrive in tomorrow’s world. Let us all say no to shame and humiliation.